White House denies role in debunked story on Seth Rich conspiracy theory

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday denied allegations that President Donald Trump was involved in pushing Fox News to publish a debunked story that promoted a conspiracy theory about the death of a Democratic National Committee staffer.

“The president had no knowledge of the story, and it’s completely untrue that he or the White House [had] involvement in the story,” Sanders told reporters at the daily briefing. “Beyond that, this is ongoing litigation, and I would refer you to the actual parties involved, which aren’t the White House.”

A lawsuit filed against Fox News alleges that the White House knew about and supported a since-retracted Fox News report claiming that Seth Rich, a former DNC staffer who was killed outside his home in Washington last year, died after he had been in contact with the website WikiLeaks.

D.C. police say Rich was killed in what appeared to be a botched robbery attempt, and Fox took down its story after it prompted widespread criticism from both other journalists and Rich’s family.

The lawsuit claims that Fox pushed the story in part to rebut the intelligence community’s consensus that the Russian government hacked into the DNC last year and made sure that private party email messages were published on WikiLeaks to embarrass Democrats before the election.

The Trump campaign is the subject of an ongoing Justice Department investigation into whether any Trump associates colluded in Russia’s efforts to influence the election.

Fox has denied the allegations in the lawsuit.

Sean Spicer, the outgoing press secretary, has acknowledged meeting with two Fox News commentators involved in the story, one them a Republican donor, but has maintained that it was arranged as a catch-up meeting. He said he was informed of the story at the meeting but not involved in promoting it.

Sanders said she was not disturbed by the meeting.

“He met with members of the media,” she told reporters Tuesday. “I don’t find that to be a strange thing.”

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